Soil Amending: 9 Things (2024) You Have to Know

Soil amending is a critical practice in gardening and agriculture whereby you enhance the quality and fertility of the soil.

When you add amendments, you can optimize nutrient levels, improve soil structure, and create an optimal environment for plant growth.

If you think your soil requires amending, keep reading.

In this blog, we’ll explore the benefits of soil amending as well as the different amendments available.

Understanding how to effectively amend your soil will ultimately result in thriving crops or garden plants.

1. What is soil amending?

A soil amendment is anything additional element or substance that improves its ability to maintain a healthy environment, retain water, or absorb nutrients.

The ultimate goal of soil amendment is to provide a better environment for plant roots to grow.

When you address the physical properties of soil, you have the ability to positively impact factors like permeability, water infiltration, aeration, and structure.

2. Why is soil amending important?

Most often, soil amending is recommended to improve the soil’s texture or correct the soil’s pH balance.

However, there are four reasons overall that soil amendments may need to be made.

bulletNutrient availability

Amending the soil enhances the available nutrients.

If there isn’t an adequate supply of nutrients in the soil, then plants aren’t able to grow and develop appropriately.

bulletSoil structure

Soil amending helps to adjust the structure so there is proper drainage and aeration.

This way, roots can access oxygen and water more effectively and facilitate nutrient uptake.

bulletWater retention

Amendments (like adding organic matter) can enhance the soil’s ability to hold water.

When your soil has good water retention, it reduces the frequency of irrigation and prevents water runoff.

bulletpH levels

Plants do best when they are grown in soil at their optimal pH.

Unfortunately, there isn’t one perfect pH level.

Rather, these conditions vary depending on the specific plant.

So, there only way to improve these conditions is to balance them for each plant with soil amendments as needed.

3. What is the difference between organic and inorganic soil amendments?

 When you’re amending soil, you must know the difference between organic and inorganic amendments.

Organic amendments originated from a live substance.

Inorganic amendments are either mined or manmade.

Here are examples of each.

bulletOrganic: Sphagnum peat, wood chips, grass clippings, straw, compost, manure, biosolids, sawdust, and wood ash

bulletInorganic: Vermiculite, perlite, tire chunks, pea gravel, and sand

However, not all the amendments above are recommended.

For example, wood ash is an organic soil amendment, but it has a high pH as well as salt content.

That said, organic matter is often a good option because it improves soil aeration, water infiltration, and water and nutrient-holding capacity.

It also serves as an energy source for fungi, earthworms, and bacteria living in the soil.

4. What are the types of soil amendments?

If you’ve never made any type of amendment to your soil, you may not know where to start.

Here are the different types of soil amendments as well as the ways to make them.

bulletOrganic matter

Organic matter includes everything from compost and aged manure to leaf mold and other organic materials.

This substance helps to improve soil structure, add nutrients, and enhance moisture retention.

bulletInorganic amendments

Inorganic amendments are materials like perlite, vermiculite, and sand.

They address aeration, texture, and soil drainage.

bulletFertilizers

If you’re trying to help your soil become more fertile, then you should consider soil amendments like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium as supplements.

bulletLime and sulfur

Lime and sulfur are supplements that can help you balance your soil’s pH.

If you need to raise the pH of an acidic sulfur, try lime.

Sulfur can help to lower pH in alkaline soils.

bulletCover crops

Cover crops are planted on land to add organic matter, prevent erosion, and improve soil structure when tilled under.

They can be a useful tool when trying to amend the soil on your land.

5. How do you amend the soil?

Here are 6 quick steps you can use for soil amending on land you intend to use for agriculture or gardening.

Keep in mind that these are general tips that you may need to slightly adjust based on your specific circumstances or land.

bulletAssess the soil

You can’t amend soil you don’t understand.

The first step in amending soil is learning about it.

What does the soil have and what does it lack?

We recommend performing a soil test for factors like nutrient levels, pH, and any deficiencies or imbalances.

bulletDetermine the necessary amendments

Evaluate your soil test results and determine the amendments that will help improve your soil.

Once you’ve diagnosed the problems, you can work to address any deficiencies or improvements you need to make to the soil.

Here are the top four factors that you should consider when selecting a soil amendment.

  1. How long the amendment will last in the soil
  2. Soil texture
  3. Soil salinity and plant sensitivities to salts
  4. Salt content and pH of amendment

bulletPrepare the soil

Before you perform any amendments, you should prepare the soil by clearing the area of debris, weeds, and rocks.

Additionally, you can maximize your amendments by loosening the soil with a garden fork or tiller to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

bulletApply the amendments

Distribute the selected amendments evenly over your prepared soil surface.

Depending on what materials you’ve chosen, you’ll want to follow the package instructions for application rates and techniques.

bulletMix and incorporate

Amendments should be mixed through the top few inches of soil.

Use a garden fork, tiller, or shovel to achieve this.

bulletWater and monitor

After you’ve applied all the amendments and incorporated them into the existing soil, you should water the soil thoroughly.

This will help the amendments settle.

In the days following, monitor the moisture levels and plant growth to assess the effectiveness of the amendments.

6. Why does soil pH matter?

You may have learned about pH in biology class.

Why does it matter so much when it comes to soil and growing crops?

pH is a quantitative measure of the acidity or basicity of aqueous or other liquid solutions.

A pH scale spans from 0 to 14.

Measurements between 0 and 6.9 are acidic.

Measurements between 7.1 and 14.0 are alkaline.

A reading of exactly 7.0 is neutral.

For the average vegetable garden, the target pH is 6.5.

However, specific plants will have their own ideal pH.

Soil pH is important for a variety of reasons.

Here are the top reasons you should understand as a landowner.

bulletpH determines the availability of nearly all essential plant nutrients

bulletAn acidic soil results in certain nutrients (like phosphorus) becoming less available

bulletAn alkaline soil impedes the availability of nutrients like iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and phosphorous

7. How does soil testing help with soil amending?

Soil pH is a critical factor in the health of your crops.

The soil’s pH must be in the range that will allow plants to access nutrients in the soil.

While some prefer slightly acidic soil, others prefer alkaline or neutral soil.

To determine what the soil’s pH is, you should purchase a soil testing kit, which you can find at most garden centers.

Once you know the pH of your soil, you’ll be able to understand how to amend it based on the range that your plants prefer.

With that, you should recognize that soil amending is never a “one-and-done” action.

Plants deplete the soil of its nutrients, and rain and other precipitation wash nutrients away.

So, even if you heavily amend your soil, you’ll still need to maintain it.

Soil testing provides a clear way forward.

It shows you what the current state of your soil is and gives you a better idea of how you can improve it.

8. Is a soil amendment the same as a fertilizer?

Fertilizers are a type of soil amendment.

However, the two are not synonymous.

Fertilizers add nutrients to the soil, which can be a necessary part of the soil amendment process.

Overall, though, amendments are specifically trying to change and improve the soil’s composition.

Fertilizer can aid this process, but it doesn’t work in every scenario.

9. Is it safe to use waste when soil amending?

If you’re living off-grid or prioritizing sustainability, you may wonder how much waste you can repurpose for soil amendment purposes.

We’ll talk about three different types of waste that you should consider: manure, biosolids, and compost.

bulletManure

Manure isn’t regulated, so you’ll need to be careful of what you use on your own land.

The government won’t be watching out on your behalf.

Certain types of manure are safer to use than others.

Generally, you’ll want to avoid fresh manure, which often has elevated ammonia levels.

It can also have human pathogens like E Coli in it.

Aged — manure that has been piled for at least six months — or composted manure — manure that has been through multiple active heating cycles and turned in between — does not have this issue.

For aged manure, excessive ammonia will have had the opportunity to escape.

Salt levels may be higher in the decomposing materials.

For composted manure, pathogens may die depending on the heating cycles it goes through.

bulletBiosolids

As byproducts of sewage treatment, biosolids may be found alone or with other organic materials.

Biosolids can contain heavy metals, pathogens, or salts, which is why they can be problematic to add to your soil.

If you’re interested in using biosolids when soil amending, you should consider which are classified as safe.

For instance, Class A biosolids have been treated to reduce bacterial content.

As a result, they are approved for use in production agriculture.

Nonetheless, it is still recommended that you avoid applying biosolids to vegetable gardens because they may contain heavy metals like cadmium and lead.

You should also be mindful of the salt content, which can be high in biosolids.

bulletCompost

Compost is decomposed organic matter.

If you’re looking to save money by producing a free and high-quality soil amendment, then this is a great option.

However, you should keep in mind that compost is not regulated.

Depending on where you’re acquiring your compost from or what you’re putting in your own compost bin, there may be a combination of plant-based compost, manure-based compost biosolids, and other agriculture by-products that can cause issues.

You’ll want to be conscious of how this could impact your soil.

For example, manure-based composts are often high in salts.

You should use these with caution.

On the other hand, plant-based composts are low in salts and generally preferred over manure-based products.

That said, they are more expensive, which can deter landowners.

Final Thoughts

Any landowner seeking to optimize their plant growth, increase yields, or a create healthy and sustainable garden should consider soil amending.

When you learn how soil amendments work and select the right type of amendments for your soil’s needs, you create an ideal growing environment that nurtures vibrant and productive plants.

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

Erika

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